Social Media: What is it good for?

Greg James on a wrecking ball

From EastEnders to Question Time, social media is now an integral part of BBC content. But when do we know if we've successfully used it, asks social media producer Clare Spencer.

Clicks, likes, followers, retweets, shares, comments, creating buzz and going viral. These are the phrases washing around the brain of the social media producer.

BBC One Twitter's feed BBC One's Twitter account trails to TV programmes

It's easy to take it for granted that every BBC channel, station, programme, brand and personality should have a social media presence.

But what are we hoping to get out of putting our content on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, YouTube, AudioBoo, Instagram, Vine and whatever other platform may turn up in the future?

'Ask what success looks like and the number of people you floor is amazing,' Controller of Radio 1 and 1Xtra Ben Cooper told the BBC Academy #SocialMediaWhatsTrending conference.

For many parts of the BBC, social media is a marketing tool. The BBC One twitter account tends to promote the content they are broadcasting on TV.

Cooper goes one step further. He doesn't just want the audience to consume content. He wants to use the content as a way of marketing the brand.

He told the conference that marketing the brand can result in something far more difficult to quantify than likes or clicks, and that's love - love for the Radio 1 brand.

How much love?
Greg James on a wrecking ball Greg James naked on a wrecking ball has been viewed over 3m times on YouTube

While you can't measure love, you can measure listener figures. And, as one member of the audience pointed out to Cooper, listener figures for Radio 1 are falling. Young people are consuming media through their mobile phones, not on radios. So Ben Cooper is meeting the audience where they are.

Radio 1's YouTube clip poking fun at a Miley Cyrus video was a particularly big hit, getting over 3m views.

I should warn you: this video contains Radio 1 DJ Greg James on a wrecking ball. Naked.

This was original content put on YouTube before it was even mentioned on air. And Radio 1 aren't the only ones to do bespoke social media content.

EastEnders character Fat Boy has his own Twitter account.

Goodbye broadcast, hello two-way conversations with the audience.

Social media pic EastEnders use social media to give fans something extra

EastEnders' Facebook page lets fans know which actors' contracts are being renewed. People leave comments, saying what they think should happen to their favourite characters. Below a post announcing Danielle Harold has signed a two year contract, there is a plea to the storyline editors to give her character Lola a happy storyline.

Instant feedback

Rob Francis from continuing drama's multiplatform team says that while the website already gets a lot of traffic, Facebook feels 'a less threatening place' for fans to vent their feelings about the show - whether they're loving a particular character or getting frustrated by a storyline.

'And as long as things don't get personal, we encourage them to do that, helping them along the way with discussion points and interesting content. We love a bit of fun too!' he adds.

It enables the production team to get an 'honest insight' into what is and isn't working on the show, he considers.

'We give them a lot of feedback on Facebook and Twitter activity each week. I couldn't honestly say if a storyline or character has ever been directly influenced by Facebook opinion though!

'From our point of view we've been able to use it as a tool to allow cast and fans to interact through our regular live chats, and it's a more natural home for some of our more irreverent content. It's also an amazing way of rallying the troops when it comes to voting for awards.'

In social media jargon, interacting is called engagement. It is measured through clicks, likes, comments and shares. This is instant feedback which teams can use to know what their readers are interested in. But sorting through this information takes time.

'Random acts of digital'

Cooper told the conference he believes it's a job that can't simply be shared out among people in the team, so Radio 1 is recruiting two social media producers.

'You need continuity, a tone of voice, a sense of humour,' he says. 'Not 50 different people in the company tweeting.'

If there is always more out there to do, perhaps the sensible approach is to be clear about why you're on social media in the first place.

Or as Cooper puts it: 'We're trying to be strategic, we're trying to avoid random acts of digital.'

Those random acts of digital end up in your Twitter and Facebook feeds along with your friends' endless baby pictures.

Then trends appear. So some teams in the BBC are helping make sense of those trends for readers.

Twitter post on No Woman No Cry #BBCtrending aims to explain social media trends
Trend spotting

#BBCtrending is a multimedia project online, on video and on radio which explains social media trends.

It works with the social media producers across BBC language services to see what's trending on Twitter in their country. It then digs deeper to investigate those trends.

Presenter and series producer Mukul Devichand came up with the idea. He spotted social media trends were under-reported to the traditional audience.

'Why should the people using social media, the ordinary users and the organised groups alike, escape journalistic scrutiny?' he asks.

'Thinking purely as journalists, as people seeking to understand and interpret the world for our audiences, social media is actually a tremendously exciting new "beat" because it's a very free, very global place where all the things we've always reported on - political forces, cultural forces, social change, tensions between groups - happen.'

He likens social media to 'the unregulated Wild West of culture wars and social change'.

'Filter out the Justin Bieber videos and skateboarding cats, and you realise that it's why the Arab Spring, or the Gezi Park movement, or the Brazilian "vinegar revolution" movement, or political Islam, or the efforts to get Saudi women driving, happen in social media.

'It needs good journalists to go in there, work out what is happening and filter out the noise.'

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